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Abdirahman Abdishakur: Garowe Online’s Person of the Year 2019


Abdirahman Abdishakur has been named Garowe Online’s Person of the Year for 2019.

A slogan on his Twitter page says, “Hurt me with the truth but never comfort me with a lie.” Yet Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, a tall man who spots a grey beard and often wears grey suits, and occasional specs, isn’t a man you can associate with pop music, where the slogan originates. He sometimes calls himself ‘Warsa’, perhaps to touch base with the youth.

In fact, at 51, Abdishakur is right in the annals of Somalia’s rebirth, having been a key figure in the formation of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, a decade ago. 

This year, Abdidhakur became the holder of the Garowe Person of the Year 2019 after a decision reached based on a Twitter poll by the Garowe Online, based on personalities that have had the greatest influence on the political scene in Somalia.

But his recent streak of vocal comments has put him in trouble, more than once.

In early December, Abdishakur became the subject of controversial Somali cleric Hassan Dahir Aweys who called for his fatwa, supposedly after the former Minister called for more women’s representation in Somalia, in a speech he delivered in Germany.

The controversy wasn’t just in the fatwa, the Islamic legal pronouncement often by an expert in Sharia. That the cleric, a convicted extremist, was able to prepare a video from custody calling for the killing of Abdishakur became the talking point. Abdishakur had lampooned Muslim clerics he said had blocked the rise of women in Somalia, using archaic practices.

Government officials defended the preacher’s right to express views but denied siding with the pronouncement.

 “It is very telling that rather than support Abdishakur’s calls for gender equality, the Federal Government of Somalia, by default, sided with the Islamist misogyny,” argued Rashid Abdi, researcher, and analyst on Horn of Africa political and security issues.

 “It is disgraceful that the FGS is using unrepentant jailed jihadist Hassan Dahir Aweys in its propaganda war against opposition leaders.”

The former Planning Minister in Somalia doesn’t think he has nine lives even though he has claimed the government is “soliciting “terrorists to attack the opposition (a charge the FGS has denied). But he has waded this and more controversies, often emerging unscathed. Sometime on December 17, 2017; Abdishakur found himself in the rain of bullets when gunmen attacked his Wadajir Party offices in Mogadishu. Five security guards were killed. Several others including the Party leader himself sustained injuries.

“It was about 12 midnights,” Abdishakur told Garowe Online in an interview, suggesting it was an assassination attempt. “I was finalizing meetings with some colleagues, the party members. (President) Farmajo targeted me because he sees me as a threat against him in the coming elections of 2020/2021.”

The identity of the gunmen was a subject of controversy. But Wadajir Party claimed they were gunmen authorized by the government and says the bodies of those who died were hidden. 

As a leader of the Wadajir Party, he has more often been on the opposing sides with President Mohamed Farmajo of Somalia. His current stance is that there shouldn’t be any extension for the current government, as is being suggested by some leaders. Last week, the UN and other donors to Somalia sided with his call, saying elections must be held on time.

A critic of Somalia’s clan-based politics, Abdishakur lost out the contest for Presidency in 2017 which was won by Farmajo.

“I became Farmajo critic to hold him to account as an opposition leader. It is my duty and responsibility to hold him to account,” he argued this week in an interview.

“Clan prejudices and religious extremism have for years colonized our minds and resulted in fear, suspicions, rejection, cynicism, and mistrust,” he said.

“We must embrace reason, compassion, cooperation, and common sense.”

Somalia is hurtling towards a plan election but it is not now clear whether it will be one person one vote. The message by Abdishakur to the government, its donors and allies have been the same. And as months go by, he feels Farmajo has failed to rebuild the national army which could hold forte against al-Shabaab and that he has failed to unite the country, given the many squabbles between the federal government and the federal state administrations.

“He failed to hold talks with Somaliland, “he said referring to the breakaway region of Somalia that declared independence but is yet to be recognized internationally. The two sides had disagreed on the composition of delegations to the talks that were meant to convince Somaliland to accept federalism, rather than secession from Somalia. It is one of the unresolved issues facing the next polls

“He has failed to finalize the constitution which would stipulate how power, resources, and revenues will be allocated, shared and disbursed,” he spoke of the country’s supreme law, which should be passed at least by June next year.

Abdishakur is, however, not all negative. In fact, he vouches for a situation where President Farmajo brings everyone to the table for solutions for his country. He sees Somalia as a country, where in the future, a modern state based on civic values and democratic principles will be routine. “We have got to overcome clan chauvinism and deepen our societal cohesion and unity,” he told Garowe Online.

“Our vision is to realize a stable, united, federal, self-sustaining Somalia that is a dignified, responsible and respected member of the global community. This can be realized through consensus building and co-governance leadership.”

Abdishakur was born in Somalia in 1968, a year after Somalia’s last one person one vote, whose winner was toppled in a military coup by Siad Barre. He has admitted he grew up in “an ordinary family, sharing common joys and hardships of life.”

A lawyer by training, he earned his first degree in 1997 from the International University of Africa before earning a postgraduate degree in law from Malaysia. Like many Somalis, he lived most of th4 de ade that followed abroad, in the UK.

But he was active in Somali affairs. He founded a lobby called the Somali Concern Group which brought together several Somali Diaspora communities across Europe. He returned to Somalia in 2007 in what he argues was because of “the burden of the crisis in our homeland.”

In 2007, he served as deputy chairman of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) where he became its chief negotiator in the Djibouti Talks that led to the formation of the Transitional Federal Government.

Abdishakur commands both critics and fans. 

As Minister for National Planning and International Cooperation, Abdirahman Abdishakur inked the controversial maritime agreement with Kenya’s former Foreign minister Moses Wetang’ula on behalf of Somalia in 2009 to resolve the sea border row case through negotiations at the United Nations.

The Memorandum of Understanding has helped former Somali Government led by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to sue Kenya at the International Court of Justice [ICJ] in August 2014, ICJ validated the MoU.

In an interview with Kenya’s Daily Nation in 2016, Abdishakur said he had done his bit to reach an amicable solution, but said the Court should be the ultimate arbiter.

His fans associate with his frequent calls for self-reliance. In 2017, he ran for Presidency on a slogan of self-reliance. He says despite losing, he has “much more to offer and contribute.”

“Abdirahman Abdishakur received the accolade after doing the most to influence the events of the year"

Person of the Year is an annual issue of Garowe Online that features and profiles a person, a group, an idea, or an object that "for better or for worse.